1.2 million in one year…

The ticking time-bomb

What the latest immigration numbers really mean



And so there we have it. Despite all the talk of Britain “taking back control”, despite all the talk of lowering immigration, despite all the talk of reforming a national economy which is clearly broken, this morning it was revealed net migration into Britain has soared to a new and historically unprecedented record of 606,000 —meaning 606,000 more people entered the country than left.

Some of the numbers are truly staggering —like the fact 1.2 million people migrated into Britain last year, of which 925,000 came from outside Europe. Or the fact net migration has surged by another 118,000 people since 2021 alone, and has nearly doubled since before the Covid-19 pandemic. Or the fact the number of asylum-seekers who are arriving from outside Europe has surged to a new high of 76,000. Or the fact the number of people who are arriving on study-related visas since 2020 has rocketed by nearly 250,000. Or the fact the number of relatives of international students who are now also entering Britain has more than doubled in only two years.

There are a lot of arguments that could be made right now.

I could tell you that these numbers make a total mockery of the Conservative Party —that despite repeated promises in its last four manifestoes, net migration has now rocketed from 250,000 under David Cameron, in 2010, to more than 600,000 today.

I could tell you that much of this was stoked by Boris Johnson, the very man who promised to “bring overall numbers down” only to then liberalise the entire regime, even removing a requirement for firms to advertise jobs in Britain first and making it possible for overseas workers in some areas to be paid 20 per cent below the UK rate.

I could tell you that mass immigration is now clearly being used to prop up a failing system of higher education, that by flooding the market with international students and their relatives —many of whom do not attend the top universities or make a clear contribution to the economy— we’re preventing failing universities from going bust and removing any incentive for the sector to reform and invest in British kids.

I could tell you that despite the Tories trying to dress this up as leading Britain into a new era of “high-skilled” immigration it’s nothing of the sort —that we’re now just flooding the post-Brexit economy with even larger numbers of low-skilled workers who are often moving into jobs which pay less than the average national wage and so removing any reason for companies to invest in innovation and British workers.

I could tell you that despite all the promises over the last twenty years that mass immigration would open the door to higher growth and productivity the reality that confronts us today is quite different —it’s contributed to a low growth, stagnant, and unproductive economy built around cheap labour, consumption, and London.

I could tell you that despite what the experts said, the latest evidence on the labour market effects of mass immigration finds that while it’s had positive effects on the highest paid and typically graduate workers, it’s had negative effects on the lowest-paid and typically non-graduate workers, reducing their hourly wage while helping to prop up a broken economy that’s built around the new graduate elite.

I could tell you that mass immigration is fanning the flames of Britain’s acute and escalating housing crisis —that while we built just over 200,000 homes last year new estimates suggest Britain will need to build at least 616,000 houses a year just to cope with the extra demand from migrants. Or that the foreign-born are far more likely than the British be crowding into an already overcrowded rental sector, driving up rents and putting further pressure on a market that’s already, visibly collapsing.

I could tell you that the claim, often heard in Westminster, that Brexit Britain is now attracting ‘the best and the brightest’ is undermined by the fact migrants are more likely than Brits to rely on social housing and that while British families are being forced to leave their homes and communities in London40 per cent of the rising number of Sub-Saharan Africans are now living in social housing in the capital.

I could tell you that contrary to all the talk, our post-Brexit immigration system is now rapidly being reshaped around the very non-European migrants who —unlike those from Europe— have been shown to be far more likely to bring net economic costs, largely because they have more children and rely more heavily on welfare benefits.

I could tell you that while after Brexit the British people were promised their left behind regions and communities would be ‘levelled-up’, so far this year we’ve spent more on housing asylum-seekers and illegal migrants —a total of £1.3 billion— than we’ve spent on ALL levelling-up funds in England’s North East, North West, and Yorkshire regions combined. We’ve spent more on managing the effects of this broken system than we’ve spent on levelling-up Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Share Matt Goodwin’s Substack

I could even tell you not to trust the numbers you’re reading today, that because for twenty years the “experts” have told us one thing only to later discover it wasn’t true at all —like the time six million EU nationals applied for settled status when we were told only 3.5 million were in Britain, or the time officials in charge of counting the numbers failed to realise many migrants were flying into airports they were not even monitoring, or the fact that on a regular basis the migration numbers people are supposed to trust are routinely later revised upwards.

I could tell you all of that. I could also tell you —as I have before— that the system is completely and utterly broken and is no longer fit for purpose. I could tell you that despite what they say none of our leaders on the right or left have any intention whatsoever of bringing immigration down because their “expert” economic models are now based on the assumption that it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future, that like a drug addict Britain is now completely hooked on importing masses of cheap migrant labour to try and conceal the glaring problems in our national economy.

And I could tell you —because they have told me— that nobody in our ruling class is planning, seriously, for what all this means for our escalating housing crisis, our deteriorating schools, our collapsing National Health Service, our stagnant economy, our fraying social cohesion, our sense of national identity, and our ability to trust our fellow citizens, a crucial prerequisite to having a functioning and viable welfare state.

So let me tell you something else -let me tell you what I’m really worried about. I’m worried that we are now putting a ticking time bomb at the very heart of our politics and society —that by failing to learn a key lesson of the last decade, that people want less not more immigration, we are opening the door to something that will make the political chaos and division of the last decade look like a gentle stroll in the park.

You can already see the warning signs. Contrary to the new elite who routinely line-up on Twitter to tell you Britain is ‘liberalising’ and people no longer care about mass immigration, an issue they are themselves heavily invested in maintaining, the actual numbers on the ground tell a remarkably and radically different story.

Immigration is back to being the third most important issue for all voters and the second most important for conservatives. Eight in ten of all voters think the issue is being managed badly. Six in ten think it’s ‘too high’. More than half want it reduced. And only one in four people think, without any hesitation, that mass immigration has been good for Britain. The new elite might smother themselves in comfort blankets, proclaiming that what this means is people want more immigration, but they’re wrong.

And the more we play this silly game the less people trust the system. Public confidence in our leaders to deal with immigration has simply collapsed which is an incredibly dangerous place for any democracy to be. When, today, the British people are asked who they trust to deal with immigration only a small minority back one of the two main parties while a plurality say “none of them” or “I don’t know”.

The politics of immigration, in other words, is now returning with a vengeance largely because the new elite have failed, once again, to respect and recognise the fact that many people in the country do not share their strongly pro-immigration views. But it will also be different to what came before. Whereas in the 2010s immigration became fused with the European Union and provided a gateway to Brexit, from hereon, in the 2020s, it will increasingly be fused with a much wider array of issues -our housing crisis, our collapsing public services, our hollowed out economy, our environment, our spiralling welfare system, our glaringly out-of-touch political and cultural class.

Contrary to the hope many of us had that Brexit would pour water over the populist flames, that it would usher in a new generation of leaders who finally respected and grasped the fact most people do not want their country —their home— to be characterised and completely upended by relentless demographic and cultural churn and change, Brexit has instead pushed forward leaders who are now pouring gasoline over the flames, who are dangerously out of touch with the rest of the country and who are now rapidly pushing us all back toward the politics of division and chaos.

Just look elsewhere —at what’s unfolding in France, in Italy, in Sweden, in Spain, in Portugal, in Austria, in Germany, and America where Donald Trump and now Ron DeSantis are zooming in on the very same issue, joining the ongoing national populist revolt against a neglectful and self-serving elite. Britain, since Brexit, has become unusual for being one of the only Western democracies to have fended off this revolt. But the consistent and continual failure of our leaders to deliver on their promise by lowering the overall numbers and building an economy that actually works for the British people will not only guarantee that the Conservatives lose the next general election but is also putting a ticking time bomb at the very heart of our politics and society. The only question is when will it go off and who or what will detonate it.

Support my writing

Matt Goodwin’s Substack goes out to around 13,000 subscribers from 116 countries around the globe each week and a growing number of active supporters who make this possible. To become an active supporter then upgrade. If you would like to ask Matt to speak at an event drop him a message or connect @GoodwinMJ.Matt Goodwin’s Substack goes out to around 13,000 subscribers in 116 countries around the globe several times each week. Become an active supporter to access everything, leave comments, get discounts and advance notice about events and support independent and contrarian writers. A version of this piece originally appeared in the Sunday Express.

You’re a free subscriber to Matt Goodwin’s Substack. For the full experience, to access the full archive, leave comments, get advance access to the podcasts and my audio memo, become an active subscriber. And connect with me direct on Twitter. Best wishes, Matt